TAMPA — Drivers who crawled along northbound Interstate 275 during nearly three years of road work will soon get to do it again — this time in the other direction.
Initial work has started on a $215 million effort to rebuild the southbound lanes of I-275 from the Hillsborough River to the area near State Road 60. It's the flip side of a job that widened northbound I-275 from Himes Avenue to downtown Tampa from August 2007 to April 2010.
Drivers should feel the work's effects through fall 2015, said John McShaffrey, a Florida Department of Transportation spokesman. Landscaping and finishing work will continue into 2016, but shouldn't hamper traffic flow.
Henry Castillo, owner of Castillo's Cafe & Catering Co., is already dreading the lane shifts and orange barrels.
Between the catering jobs and his commute, Castillo uses the interstate four to six times a day. He doesn't mind the northbound side, but will probably opt for side streets to avoid construction and lane shifts on the southbound side when heading home.
The Department of Transportation estimates about 175,000 vehicles a day travel on I-275 between West Shore Boulevard and downtown Tampa. Of that, about 86,000 use the southbound lanes daily.
"There's so much congestion it's unbelievable," said Castillo, who lives in the West Shore area and has made the daily trip to his business at Armenia Avenue and Union Street for about five years.
"People on the left side want to get to the right side (to exit). People on the right side want to get to the left," he said. "With the construction ... it's going to be tough. It's progress. You have to put up with it. What are you going to do?"
Preliminary tasks have already caused temporary lane closures on streets near the interstate, including Howard and Armenia avenues.
While the most significant traffic impact will involve lanes being closed at night, southbound drivers should expect changes in a few weeks.
"They're only going to have a few major traffic shifts. Nov. 8 is the first big one," McShaffrey said.
Drivers accustomed to using a long off-ramp to exit southbound lanes onto Howard and Armenia avenues will lose it. The new exit will be shorter and relocated to the left inside lane.
"It will take away that nice long exit to Howard and Armenia and on to Himes," McShaffrey said.
Drivers exiting at Himes Avenue will still have a right-side exit but it will also be shorter, he said.
The 4.2 miles of road work involves replacing eight bridges in the southbound lanes. Also, the bridges over Dale Mabry Highway, Cypress Street and Himes and Lois avenues in both directions will be replaced. The work at Dale Mabry Highway will also include replacing the curved exit and entrance ramps with straight ones, McShaffrey said.
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It will be about two years before drivers begin to see some improvement in traffic flow, he said. During peak traffic times, drivers will see the number of lanes open in both directions and the number exit ramps stay the same as they are today.
"They will still have three lanes and the speed limit will be 55," McShaffrey said.
The construction schedule also calls for closing the southbound exit at Lois Avenue in 18 months to replace it with an exit ramp at Cypress Street. The existing Lois Avenue exit will stay in place until then, McShaffrey said.
Traffic will shift again in the last phase to the final configuration and drivers should have full use of the improved highway by 2015. The final months of work will concentrate on local roads, landscaping and the median.
Once finished, there will be four lanes in each direction and bridge work will eliminate the humps on bridges. There will be enough room left for more lanes and a rail line to be added later.
Times staff writer Rich Shopes contributed to this report.